The benefits of a team focus day
Today we hear from Alessio Borraccino, Senior iOS Engineer, on how his team uses Focus Days to foster innovation and create an atmosphere of learning.
At GetYourGuide we value learning and ownership. On the Native Apps team, one way we promote these two qualities is through the Focus Day. In this post I will detail what our Focus Days looks like, why they are important, and how you can introduce them to your team.
What is a focus day?
A Focus Day is one full day of focused work on any project chosen by the team without any distraction.
Simply put, we use one day to fully commit to one project of our choice, without being interrupted or distracted by other tasks. The projects are driven entirely by members of the team.
As the main guideline, we choose projects which could be valuable for the company. Having such a broad and open requirement means we have a lot of flexibility regarding what we focus on. Examples of past projects include: reducing technical debt, exploring new technologies, designing entire new features, improving processes or tasks, and more…
For example, during some of our recent Focus Days, we were able to introduce and finish a continuous integration environment for iOS which had been missing for a long time, build an initial prototype for both Siri intent and augmented reality integrations, and accomplish some much-needed refactoring.
Even if some of our projects are not yet released, they still exist in the code which means we’ve had the chance to learn and understand their possibilities and limitations through execution. If we are able to release them, we will also find out how interesting our users find these new features.
Why is it important?
For our team, the Focus Days are important for many reasons:
They give us an opportunity to think about innovations and the future direction of our app without the pressure of a roadmap or deadlines. They also help build upon and strengthen our team dynamics because the team decides together which project to pursue and works side by side to get it done.
Focus Days also motivate the team because they give us a chance to work on projects we are passionate about that aren’t quite urgent enough to be prioritized ahead of other tasks. Being able to bring an idea and drive it forward to completion can be very satisfying, especially if the idea proves to be successful.
Last but not least, when we’re working in this focused environment, our productivity as a team increases; we achieve a lot in just one day. So, with only a small investment, we make a big impact, either by bringing value to the business or learning what doesn’t work.
How do I introduce Focus Days to my team?
If the benefits I’ve talked about so far are appealing and you’re interested in trying a Focus Day with your team, here are a few steps to ensure a successful launch:
First, start by creating one full-day event on the calendar and invite everyone in the team.
To maximize working time during the Focus Day, it is also helpful to set up a preparation meeting sometime before, with the following objectives:
Decide on the project
Brainstorm: Every team member suggests a project to work on and defines the deliverable. Project deliverables must be estimated to finish in roughly one day of work.
Vote: Team members vote on which projects they want to tackle. Each person should choose a main project and a secondary project in case the main project turns out to be more difficult than estimated. The project with the most votes will be tackled during the Focus Day.
Where will the Focus Day take place? In our case, total focus was better achieved by working outside of our normal team environment.
Consider the necessary tools: will there be the right equipment in the new space or does the team need to bring something?
Plan time to eat lunch and dinner (if needed) together as a team. We always pick a special delivery option on our Focus Days.
With all of the logistics taken care of beforehand, you can optimize the productivity of the Focus Day and reduce any interruptions that would impact the team.
Soon after the Focus Day, schedule a report meeting to present learnings with the following goals:
Discuss the results of the Focus Day, including anything that still needs to be finished (in the case it is not yet finished) and what everyone learned.
Decide and plan the next steps for the project.
Share feedback on the Focus Day itself to gather opinions on what went well and what could be improved. (This could also be done via surveys if the meeting is too long.)
You will also need to decide on the frequency of the Focus Days based on what’s right for your team. When we decided to launch a Focus Day, we agreed to start with one per quarter with the ability to increase the frequency in successive iterations.
Focus Days are a great tool to bring motivation to a team, to improve team dynamics, and to achieve big results with a small investment while also safeguarding the opportunity to "buy" a whole day’s worth of time. They can be useful for any team, not just those with engineers and product managers.
Following the implementation of Focus Days on the Native Apps team, we are very happy with the results. Some of the results of the projects are already live, and we are looking forward to doing more.